Edith Cavell: Sentenced to Death for Giving Life

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World War I pushed people across the world to every limit imaginable. One of those people was Edith Cavell, who found herself working as the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels, Belgium when Germany invaded in 1914 at the start of World War I.

Instead of trying to flee, Cavell remained, saying she was needed at a time like this more than ever.

She’d go on to back up that statement, becoming a beacon of humanity for the Allied Powers and someone we should all aspire to be more like.

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1. Treating the “Enemy”

In September 1914, Cavell was ordered to help two British soldiers wounded behind German lines. She treated the men in her hospital and then arranged to have them smuggled out of Belgium into neutral Holland (current day Netherlands).

This feat led her to join a network of people focused on sheltering Allied soldiers and Belgians eligible for military service to help them escape. Over the next 11 months, Cavell helped around 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers, keeping them in the hospital and arranging for guides to take them to the border.


The Germans asserted that while Cavell was aiding in the process of returning Allied soldiers to the enemy forces to fight against Germany, her network was relaying information to British intelligence.

Reports and first-hand testimonies in the Belgian archives from the end of WWI regarding Cavell’s network show that some intelligence tactics may have taken place. One account was from Herman Capiau, a Belgian engineer who had brought the first British soldiers to Cavell in 1914:

“Whenever it was possible to send interesting intelligence on military operations, this information was forwarded to the English intelligence service punctually and rapidly.”

Capiau referred to information about a German trench system, the location of munitions dumps and the whereabouts of aircraft. The details were hidden ingeniously in clothes. Messages were written on strips of fabric and sewn into clothes or concealed in shoes and boots.

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2. The Trial

After nearly a year of successful transporting, Cavell was captured and accused of harboring Allied soldiers. German police were suspicious of Cavell’s activities, but a Frenchman named Gaston Quien ultimately did her in. Gaston would later be convicted by a French court for his treasonous behavior with the Germans and betrayal to Cavell.

For Cavell, after three days of meandering questioning, German authorities tricked her into talking by telling her they already had the necessary information to convict her, and the best way to save her co-conspirators would be to make a full confession. Cavell believed the interrogators and confessed with names, dates and locations.

It took the German military court just two days to convict her. When Cavel heard the death sentence pronounced, she accepted without reaction. Her, along with 33 other conspirators were sentenced to death by firing squad.

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3. Firing Squad Execution

The night before her execution, Cavell met with a chaplain who recorded their conversation. With the clock on her life down to the final hours, Cavell said to the chaplain:

“I have told you that devotion will give you real happiness and the thought that you have done, before God and yourselves, your whole duty and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the hard moments of life and in the face of death.”

Cavell was found guilty on October 7, and five days later at dawn, the 49-year-old heroine was shot by firing squad in Brussels where it all began.

Her execution was legal under international law, but following worldwide demand for her release, triggered severe outrage.


Cavell’s unjust execution made her a symbol for the Allied cause, and her legacy was used in recruiting messages around the world. After the war, her body was exhumed and escorted to Britain where she was later reburied in Norwich Cathedral.

A lot of people have morals, but Edith Cavell unflinchingly followed through on hers, and in the most perilous of circumstances. Even in the waning moments of her life, Cavell stood by her actions with grace, dignity. Today’s—and any—world could use more badasses like her.

 

 

VKN Badass Guys: Ernest Hemingway

Throughout history there have been exceptional men who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Guys Series.

Ernest Hemingway was a novelist, short story writer, journalist, American war hero, and certified all-around badass. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 and took home the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature the very next year. And though he was a troubled man with many character flaws, his involvement with the spread of intellectual masculinity along with his overall influence on American literature cannot be understated.

Here’s why VK Nagrani thinks Ernest Hemingway is badass.

1. WWI Ambulance Driver

When the world went to war, Hemingway answered the call to action and was trained to be an ambulance driver on the Italian Front. One month after arriving in Italy, he was returning from a canteen with sweets for the men on the front line, when he was struck by mortar fire and seriously wounded. But, because Hemingway was a special kind of badass, he assisted in bringing Italian soldiers to safety despite his wounds, for which he was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery at the age of 18. After spending six months in the infirmary, he said of the incident, “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you … Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you.”

He reported a fictionalized account of his time as an ambulance driver in the heart wrenching classic, “A Farewell to Arms,” which became Hemingway’s first best-seller.

2. War Correspondent

Apparently, Hemingway hadn’t enough combat time when the world erupted back into chaos in the late ‘30s. His first job was covering the Spanish Civil War where he was present at the Battle of Ebro, and was among the last to leave the battleground at the end of the bloodbath. Hemingway was also present at the Storming of Normandy Beach on D-Day, where he could see “the first, second, third, fourth and fifth waves of [landing troops] lay where they had fallen, looking like so many heavily laden bundles on the flat pebbly stretch between the sea and first cover.”

If writing about from the battlefield wasn’t badass enough, he also corralled a group of French resistance members into a militia in 1944, which helped in the liberation of Paris.

3. Damn Near Indestructible

While sightseeing in Africa, Hemingway’s plane crash-landed after striking a utility pole, leaving him with a significant head wound and his wife with two broken ribs. Being a badass doesn’t guarantee you the best luck in the world as the next day they were boarding a plane to get into a metro area to receive medical care, when the plane exploded, causing serious burns and yet another concussion. News traveled quickly of Hemingway’s death, it was a few weeks before he rejoined the world of the living, after having spent his recovery time going over the many obituaries about him.

Hemingway developed a sickness, suspected to be hemochromatosis, for which he was treated by electroconvulsive therapy. When he checked out of the hospital he was “released in ruins” and shortly afterwards committed suicide. Hemingway was so tough that the only thing that could kill him, was himself.

 Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more editions of our Badass Guys Series.

 

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Badass Moments In History: Alvin York’s Pacifistic Approach to Killing Nazis

World War I has been considered, by pretty much everybody, as a bad time. Mothers and wives had to kiss their sons and husbands goodbye, perhaps for the last time, as they went off to fight and die in a war they likely didn’t fully understand (I mean, who was Franz Ferdinand anyways?). Due to a convoluted tangle of conflicting alliances, everybody was at war with everybody, yet nobody wanted to be there. Especially not one peaceful pacifistic man who’d strangely become one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I.

Below VK Nagrani explores the story of Sergeant Alvin C. York and the role he played in this Badass Moment in History.

1. Making a Peaceful Warrior

In his youth, Alvin York’s idea of a hot Tennessee night was nerfing hogs in the face with his .308, chugging a bottle of mama’s homemade sour mash and then breaking it over some poor yokel’s face, Wild West-style. York was known around his hometown of Pall Mall for dishing out hand-crafted knuckle sammiches – until one night, things got particularly out of control and York’s brawl buddy was killed. He swore off alcohol, violence, and became a hardcore Christian right then and there. When the time came and America started drafting new conscripts, York filed as a conscientious objector.

But, of course, this was back in the 1910s, and America didn’t really give a shit if you had “moral imperatives” to “not kill people.” Uncle Sam needed asses in seats and bodies for the front line. If you had enough arms to hold a gun, you were the perfect candidate for the meat grinder. York was drafted into the 82nd Infantry and shucked off to the clusterfuck that was the French countryside. He became somewhat of a curiosity in his regiment – he was the best marksman in the bunch, yet had no taste for war.

2. The Mission

York was tasked with a super important assignment to capture the intensely fortified Decauville Railway – which was a major strategic supply vein for food, reinforcements, and munitions to Axis powers. In short, if the Allies wanted to firmly squeeze the Jerrys by the short hairs, they really needed to secure this point. Yet, the road that led them to the Railway was defended with thirty concealed gun nests that wouldn’t let anyone through without opening up a barrage of hellfire on them. They got in position to flank and, once firmly behind enemy lines, began to open fire on the Germans. Even though the Americans had the drop on them, the Germans successfully defended their position and pushed them back into the tree line.

3. Pushed Too Far

This is when York was officially through fucking around and started taking matters into his own hands. While everyone in his party was either dead or running home to change their tampons, York was standing (yes, standing) and firing at the gun nests and the Germans dumb enough to pop their heads into his sight, all while being the sole target of several dozen fully-automatic Maxim machine guns and a few hundred German infantrymen. York eventually ran out of bullets and began using his sidearm to keep the mayhem going.

Germans were dropping faster than panties when York got home to tell the story of how he single-handedly killed 28 soldiers in the face of certain-death:

“I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then the fourth; then the third; and so on. That’s the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see we don’t want the front ones to know that we’re getting the back ones, and then they keep on coming until we get them all. I knowed, too, that if the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear ones would drop down and pump a volley into me and get me.”

After wiping out a squad of raging Krauts, the gunfire stopped and an opposing Officer stood up and pleaded in English for him to stop firing on them. York readily accepted the Officer’s surrender and captured 128 enlisted men, 4 Officers, and 32 machine guns all by himself.

Keep checking the VK Nagrani Blog for more Badass Moments in History.

 

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